By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The National Zoo has temporarily moved the chickens and ducks at its Kids' Farm exhibit to reduce the potential risk of visitors and other animals contracting bird flu, zoo officials said yesterday.
In what was described as a precautionary measure, 18 ducks and 27 chickens were moved to the zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va., last week to guard against infections caused by influenza viruses that can occur naturally in birds.
"We just wanted to be extremely careful to protect both our visitors and the animals," said the zoo's director, John Berry. Kids' Farm "is one area of the zoo that encourages the closeness of animals and children, where kids can touch and pet the animals."
Berry stressed that there have been no known cases in the United States of what is called highly pathogenic avian influenza, including a particularly lethal strain, H5N1, that has spread to many parts of the world. More than 150 million birds have died, killed by the disease or slaughtered to control its spread.
If the zoo waited until a case occurred in this country, Berry said, it might not be able to move the domestic fowl and would probably have to euthanize them.
"We didn't want that to be our only option," he said.
Moving the chickens and ducks, zoo officials said, would also help keep people comfortable about visiting Kids' Farm, a nearly two-acre expanse that opened in 2004.
Zoos across the country have been preparing for a possible outbreak of avian flu, discussing plans for prevention and surveillance.
Berry said there are no immediate concerns about the zoo's Bird House exhibit, because visitors there do not come in close contact with the animals.
He said the zoo is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about possibly vaccinating the birds in the exhibit against avian flu.
The zoo continues strict testing requirements for animals that join the collection and has instituted the use of disinfectant foot baths for staff and visitors entering the non-public animal areas. It also has a graduated response plan should the threat of the avian flu virus appear to start moving closer to the zoo.
Avian H5N1 infections have killed poultry and wild birds in Asia and, more recently, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that the H5N1 strain does not spread easily from birds to humans unless there is very close contact between infected birds and people.